Background A 1993 survey reported that US medical schools devoted an average of 2 h to undergraduate teaching of sleep and 7% universities had no structured sleep teaching whatsoever.1 Since 1993, sleep has become increasingly recognised as having a key role in human disease and child development. For example, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) has, in the last 10 years become recognised as a major cause of hypertension, while untreated childhood OSA has been shown to have a detrimental effect on cognition and behaviour.
Methods We aimed to assess whether such clinical knowledge breakthroughs had led to an increase in undergraduate sleep teaching. The questionnaire used for the 1993 US survey1 was adapted for UK use, and distributed via email to the undergraduate deans of all UK medical schools (n=30). Email (x2) and postal reminders were sent.
Results Responses were received from 17/30 (57%) medical schools, including two that refused to provide information. Data were compiled on the remaining 15 responses. A median (IQR) of 2.5 (1, 4.3) hours is spent teaching sleep medicine and physiology, while two universities (13%) offer no sleep teaching whatsoever. Elective learning modules in sleep are available in 4/15 (27%) medical schools. Areas covered include pharmacology (80%), pathophysiology (73%), diagnostic evaluation (66%), daytime somnolence (47%), developmental aspects of sleep (40%), paediatric sleep (40%), and polysomnography (33%). Teaching was delivered by lectures (87%), and small group tutorials (40%) with only one university utilising online teaching modules. Teachers are a mixture of medical staff (87%), physiologists (33%) and sleep scientists (7%). Only four universities (27%) formally assess sleep knowledge. Barriers to teaching were time (47%), and lack of qualified faculty (13%).
Conclusions In spite of increasing evidence that sleep plays a key role in human health and behaviour, there is a paucity of undergraduate teaching in sleep at UK medical schools, with some universities reporting no sleep teaching at all. In particular it appears that online learning is an under utilised teaching modality, and one which might overcome the lack of faculty and teaching time as barriers to teaching.